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TECHNIQUES is published by the Minnesota State University, Mankato student chapter of the Society of Technical Communication.



Confusing Procedure Documents

By Wesley Ahles



Over the past few years of my college experience, I have come to appreciate the ideas inherent to technical communication. Sadly, there are too many times when that ability is lacking in many documents that we use. Although I was aware of these vile documents through my schoolwork, it was not until I took up a full-time job that I began to realize just how widespread bad communication really is.


I work in a company manufacturing facility. Part of my employment includes being a trainer for my production team. I instruct new team members how to conduct the processes on my line. Part of this training is having them read a set of work instructions for each process, which they can refer to in the event of any questions. Unfortunately, these work instructions are of little use. The information they have is not thorough, portions of process information are excluded, jargon is common, and the explanations are long-winded. In short, they are often more trouble than they are worth.


Due to my association with these horrid work instructions, I have become more critical of the documents I see in everyday life. When I read a procedural document, I judge more harshly on how clear and consistent it is. Last fall, I was in the post office and saw a flyer on sending packages overseas to soldiers in Iraq.



The flyer had to deal with how to send packages to soldiers at APO or FPO addresses. As I read that, I could not help but think just what are APO and FPO addresses? What do they mean? There was no explanation of what they were, just some regulations on what could and could not be sent. I immediately started having flashbacks of work instructions and how unhelpful they were. Before my time as trainer, I wouldn’t have given the document a second thought, but now it confused me why there would not be any explanation of what APO or FPO was. Why take the chance of confusing people when you can help them? It would take only a few seconds.


Other documents continued to puzzle me. I bought a new Gillette shaving razor shortly after the post office encounter. The razor came with several attachable blades for multiple use. I could not fit the blades into the slots on the razor’s top they were different sizes. I looked to the box for instructions but saw none, looking several times only to find nothing! There was no information to answer my question and I had to figure it out by myself. I also saw a flyer for a documentary that was showing on campus. It told when and where the documentary was showing, but did not list the title of it or subject matter. I began to think, how could this information be omitted from a flyer meant to entice people to see this film? This critical information was being neglected!




Work Cited


Policies, Procedures, & Processes. “Seven Cs to Avoid Procedure Writing Errors. Bizmanualz. http://www.bizmanualz.com/articles/11-04-04_procedure_writing.html (accessed November 17, 2005).


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